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Airlines may need to reduce passengers to take-off due to climate change

Airlines may have to cut passenger numbers, fly to fewer long-haul destinations or only operate from airports with longer runways in the future because of global warming, scientists say.

A study has found warmer air and changing winds are making it increasingly difficult for aircraft to take-off.

It suggests airports with shorter runways will require planes to reduce weight to compensate.

Heathrow queue
Image: Airlines may need to reduce passengers to tackle the issue, the study suggests

Researchers say it may mean airlines have to reduce the number of passengers on board aircraft or carry less fuel and fly to fewer destinations.

Professor Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading and co-author on the study, said: “Warm air and slow winds make it harder for planes to get off the ground, and climate change appears to be making both of these factors more common.

“Our study is the first to combine measurements of air temperatures and wind speeds to calculate the precise impact on take-offs.

“Reducing passenger numbers clearly results in a financial hit to airlines.”

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He added: “Reducing the amount of fuel being carried is an alternative way of shedding weight, but limits the distance that can be travelled.

“Another possibility is extending runways to allow higher take-off speeds to be reached but this would mean covering these holiday paradises in even more tarmac.”

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The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, involved the analysis of more than 60 years of weather and aircraft data from 10 Greek airports.

Researchers looked at take-off conditions for two types of aircraft – the medium-sized passenger jet Airbus A320, and the smaller de Havilland DHC8-400 – and took into account headwind, surface conditions, temperature and runway slope.

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The team of scientists and engineers from the UK and Greece calculated the take-off distance needed and the maximum possible take-off weight for both the planes.

They found the take-off distance required for the A320 increased by an average of 2.7 metres per year, while for the DHC8-400 it was by 1.4 metres per year.

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At one airport, the required take-off distance for the A320 increased by 98.6 metres between 1988 and 2017, the study found.

Researchers discovered it also took both aircraft a longer time to climb after leaving the ground.

The research was carried out by the University of Reading along with Cranfield University, the University of West London and the Athena Research Centre in Greece.

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